The concept of a human right to education has been historically extremely controversial. In the United States, the way we look at public schools is somewhat suspicious and mistrustful. Even directly after independence from Britain came, rather than being enthusiastic about creating a government that was deemed just, there was more direct anti-government sentiment. Though public education was eventually enacted, it carried with it another common post-revolutionary theme – competition. Pasi Sahlberg brought with him a contrasting view of education. In Finland, education is viewed not as a governmental action or proposal, and more of an untouchable human right. Because of a devoted belief in this philosophy, not only is primary and high school education publicized, but so is higher education. This belief is the reason is also the reason private schools are illegal in Finland. This view of education is working – Finland is ranked 1st in education to the United States’ 30th.
The sense that education can only be successful if it is fueled by competition is not accepted in Finland. In Finland, as Pasi Sahlberg said, “Real winners don’t compete.” What he meant by this is that in Finland, it is not a victory to vastly outpace your fellow students, schools, and teachers, by individual means. He proposes that the true victory is collaboration. When educators and school systems share knowledge and information, everybody improves far faster than they would otherwise. In Finland, there is less of an emphasis on pure hours. They have come to the conclusion that hard hours can’t fix everything, sometimes you need to work smarter, not harder. There is actually significantly less time in the classroom in Finland, but more time for educators to collaborate on lesson plans and ideas. Another popular pattern in the United States is standardization. While there has been an incredible surge in standardized testing recently, in Finland it is virtually absent until the last year or 2 of high school. While it is somewhat necessary for the assessment of older students, Sahlberg argues treats everybody as if they had the same strengths and aspirations. The Finnish model argues that to maximize performance you must maximize personalization.
While the Finnish Model is appealing, it there are many differences between the US and Finland. In Finland they have almost eliminated poverty, with a child poverty rate of 3%, as opposed to the US’ 20%. While it is true that this poses a challenge, it is very much possible that education lowers poverty rates, not the other way around. Still, the US’ is much larger, and much more resistant to public programs, and the Finnish model, while clearly better, would be difficult to implement. Also, income inequality in Finland is significantly lower than it is in the US. Because of the low rate of income inequality, making widespread equality of public education is far easier.
The public education system has embodied many of the ideals that formed this country, for better and for worse. The competition that is applied to the free market can’t work in the same way that it does with education. I firmly believe that our public education system is the driving force that makes the US great, encouraging creativity and determination. However, more and more the appreciation for it is getting lost. To continue to be the international standard for a country, recognition of our recent failures in education is necessary, and we need to be determined to fix it.